A friend and someone I admire greatly shared a story and advice yesterday on Facebook. She graciously allowed me to share her story with Athabascan Woman Blog readers. Teisha Simmons is one of the most inspirational people I know. She has a love and passion for helping Alaska Native people. Teisha is Athabascan from Galena with family from around interior Alaska.
Twenty-three years ago at this moment, I was walking around on my own two legs thinking that my problems were so huge. Socially, I had dug myself a hole and my list of enemies was far longer than my list of friends. Although, I must say that the small group of friends that I did have was comprised of some amazing young ladies who are now absolutely amazing women (Tiffany Simmons, Leah Youngblood, Shannon Kash, Shelly Block, Martha Turner, Charlisa Attla and Mariah Pitka).
Academically, I was getting ready to move to Anchorage to try to successfully complete my sophomore year after changing schools five times during my freshman year. I thought my problems were so big… Most girls my age we’re really mean to me in public. Many family members turned against me and judged me for all of the stupid and shameful things I was doing.
I was moving to a big city where I didn’t know anyone and things just looked pretty bleak. At 9:30 p.m. tonight, it will be exactly 23 years since God put me in a completely different direction. By the end of the day, I would be paralyzed from the shoulders down and would enter into a few dark years of depression and anxiety.
After a lot of love, support, forgiveness, mentoring and cheerleading from family, friends and even past enemies, here I am today living an amazingly beautiful life and I wouldn’t trade my experience for anything.
Is being in a wheelchair easy? Absolutely not. One of the things I miss the most is being able to jump out of bed, take a five minute shower and brush my teeth in 60 seconds allowing me to be at my destination in 30 minutes if I ate breakfast on the go. Now, it takes me anywhere from 2 to 4 hours to get ready for work. But, you know what? I get to get ready for work. I have the privilege to wake up each morning and decide how I’m going to face the day.
Am I going to wake up and complain about how long it takes me to get ready? Am I going to complain about the pain I feel in my neck and shoulder muscles from sitting in a wheelchair for 23 years? Am I going to complain that I can’t go out camping with my family for a week at a time? No, instead I’m going to embrace the fact that I was blessed with the opportunity to grab life by the horns and to be grateful for the people who never let me give up, but in fact propelled me to be far more successful than I would have been walking around on my two legs.
If anyone can take any lessons from my life, I hope that at the very least you will take these:
- Reevaluate what you complain about and what your problems are. After realizing that I would never walk again, all of the social drama I was surrounded by or the academic failures I had experienced really seemed very small. Prior to 23 years ago, I had the choice to change my behaviors and create whatever type of life I wanted to. All I would have needed to do was make new choices. All of us have that power. Every decision we make every single minute of every single day affects what we experience. Don’t sit around complaining, when you can easily make some changes and experience something completely different.
- Grab life by the horns and do what you want with it. If I can do all of the things I’ve done since my injury, just think of all that you can do if you can do it 10 times faster than me. It takes me about 15 minutes to brush my teeth each morning, 25 minutes just to wash my hair, 20 minutes to get dressed, 5 minutes to get into my chair. Just think how fast you can get out of bed and get on your feet. Just doing that alone, you are 4 minutes and 55 seconds ahead of me. What good can you do for yourself or the world with that extra four minutes and 55 seconds that you have?
- Believe that the impossible is completely possible. Trust me on this one. When I woke up in the intensive care unit, God himself could have told me that one day I would be the mother of a beautiful little girl, I would have an amazing job and I would have a home with a washer and dryer (hey, after 23 years of doing laundry at the laundromat, a washer and dryer is a dream come true for a village girl 🙂 ) and I wouldn’t have believed Him.
- Learn to love yourself and take care of yourself. If you don’t love yourself enough to take care of yourself and respect yourself, you are only going to attract the same type of people to surround you. It wasn’t until I accepted myself and was confident in myself as a woman with a disability that my life truly came together. If you don’t know how you can take better care of yourself in effort to love yourself truly, just ask a few of the people who love you the most and whom you trust. Those people can see the things that we choose to overlook and hide behind. But remember, these aren’t things that we want to hear about ourselves. If you truly want to grow, step outside your comfort zone and be willing to hear those things.
I heard a great saying a few weeks ago. “A smart man learns from his mistakes. A wise man learns from another man’s mistakes.” Learn from my mistakes…reevaluate your complaints and choices and create the life you would absolutely love to have.
Enaa basee’ Teisha for sharing your story and for inspiring us to look within themselves and to look at what they have to be grateful. I appreciate her candid advice and wishes for people.
About Teisha Simmons
Teisha Simmons has been the Director of the Interior Alaska Campus since 2012. Simmons graduated from the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) with a B.A. in Psychology in 2000 and a M.A. in Clinical-Community Psychology in 2003. She began her career at UAF in 2004 serving as the project coordinator for the Alaska Natives into Psychology Project, then served as the program manager and a faculty member of the Rural Human Services Program. Simmons enjoys traveling, working on Athabascan language revitalization efforts and reading. Most importantly, she enjoys being a mother to her 10 year old daughter Tassy.